The High Chaparral
Note: Joe's largest role and his finest hour
Sam is gone from the High Chaparral and they can't count on him coming back, leaving John Cannon to act both as boss and foreman, driving everyone crazy in the process. The men decide that they need someone to act as interim foreman. But none of them want the extra responsibility, even if it does mean more pay. Before he knows what's happened, Joe is corralled into the position, with Mano, Blue, Buck and Pedro literally dragging him up to Big John as the new foreman. Joe is the perfect choice - he knows the ranch inside and out, having been there from the beginning, the men all like and respect him and he can do the job. Under Big John's cross-examination, Joe admits that he didn't have to be pushed too far by the others. He tells the boss they're only thinking of him and Mrs. Cannon and the ranch. They all have too much at stake to let the ranch go to seed over one job. When even Victoria tells John that Joe should have the job because working both jobs has made him a cross bear of a man, Joe Butler is made the new foreman of the High Chaparral.
Joe steps into the position like he was born to it. It's obvious he takes his duties very seriously. Within a minute of receiving his title, he tells the boss the new heifers would be happier in a different location and doesn't cringe when John explodes. The next day he makes a hungry Buck and Blue return to get the branding irons they've forgotten before they can eat, to John's amusement. He offers to go into Tucson for some new hands to help with the large cattle herd they are expecting and John asks him to go to the bank for him and bring back the cattle buyer's money - $3,000. Joe wonders if its a good idea to have so much money on the ranch, but John thinks it will be secure enough in the house safe. When John cautions Joe about choosing the right kind of men for the job Joe gets a little huffy, and offers to let Big John make the decisions himself. John immediately backs down, and laughingly says its getting so a man can't open his mouth on his own ranch anymore. With a hard edge to his jaw, an unsmiling Joe rides off to Tucson.
A man approaches the Tucson saloon in time to hear some locals discuss Joe Butler's offer of free beer for hands that want to hire on, as well as the $3,000 dollars the new foreman is carrying back to the ranch. The man has a big grin for Joe but Joe does not smile back when he greets him as "Jelks". Neither does he take the man's outstretched hand as Jelks offers himself as a new ranch hand. "We're old saddle partners, ain't we?" says Jelks. Joe tells him he's only hiring honest men. Jelks says he's changed, but Joe counters that "no one changes that much." "You did," says Jelks, looking Joe right in the eye. He reminds Joe of the times when he and Joe and Sam rode together with the law right behind him. And look how far Joe has come now - the foreman of the biggest spread in the territory. Someone gave Joe a chance and that's all Jelks is looking for now. He gives Joe his solemn word that he is speaking the truth and Joe finally accepts him as a new hand, with a very wary look.
John Cannon does not like this new ranch hand right from the start. He catches Jelks laying down on the job, with plenty of excuses. Joe tells him off and once again, Jelks gives him his word that he is going to do a honest job all day, everyday. But instead of following Joe's orders, he rides back to the ranch. Victoria surprises his attempt to sneak into the house and he immediately attempts to ingratiate himself to her, though she is uncomfortable when he compliments her beauty. But she asks him to come inside and hang a picture that is too heavy for her to lift. Jelks is more than happy for a chance to go inside and immediately zeros into the location of the safe, while he continues his smooth talk. When Big John catches him in the house, his suspicion of the new man grows.
He tells Joe of his misgivings. He doesn't like the man - there's something about him that just isn't right. If it was up to him, he'd fire him. But Joe says there isn't any call to - Jelks has been doing his job. John finally stops being diplomatic and tells Joe that he wants Jelks fired. "Then you fire him yourself," Joe says with the familiar clenched jaw. "And while you're at it you'd better start looking for a new foreman."
In a show of good faith, John goes to the bunkhouse where Joe is packing his belongings. John isn't going to apologize but he will let Joe do his job - its the foreman's job to the hiring as well as the firing. Joe may have made a mistake by hiring Jelks, but it's his mistake and John will let him handle it. The two men shake hands and Joe looks relieved as he begins to unpack.
But Jelks doesn't show up the next day to help with the herd and Joe heads back to the house to find him. He finds Jelks in the bunkhouse, where he is holding a gun on Victoria, waiting for someone to arrive who knows the combination to the safe with the $3,000 inside. Joe is not about to admit to this, and is ordered to throw his gun down. Victoria is told to tie Joe's hands behind him.
John's suspicions have been aroused again and he arrives at the ranch with Buck, Blue, Mano and Pedro. John has no argument for Jelks, who holds a gun pointed at Victoria, and goes inside to get the money. The others hold their ground, not willing to risk her safety. Jelks tells John to throw the bag of money over and then he will release Victoria. But when he gets his prize, he decides he will hold on to her a while longer, to ensure his safe getaway.
Meanwhile, Joe has been loosening his bonds. Before Jelks can step out the door Joe has grabbed him and thrown him to the ground. John grabs Victoria and the others hurry for their guns. Joe tells Buck to get the money back to John - he wants to deal with Jelks himself. Jelks talks quickly - how can Joe blame him for what he's done, remembering their nefarious past? It's the only way he knows how to live. Joe says calmly that he believes him. Jelks begs Joe to let him go and Joe agrees. "You really mean it?" Jelks can't believe his luck. "My solemn word," says Joe, before he fells him with one punch.
The next day, it is business as usual and Joe wonders if John would like to be the one to pick out a new hand to replace Jelks. John fixes the foreman with one of his deadly looks and Joe quickly says he'll take care of it himself. He compliments John on his agreeability, seeing has how Joe made such a big mistake with Jelks. But John says it turned out all right and he was the one who made the first mistake, bringing all the money to the ranch. Joe made the second mistake hiring Jelks, so he figures they are even. Joe hopes they can keep it that way.